Mendocino Farmers Market

origamitomatoSeptember 14. I’ve been out to the coast to sell at the Mendocino Farmers Market the last two Fridays. Sunny but cool, a delicious breather from the inland midday heat, a beautiful little street market at the edge of the most picturesque town in the county, and don’t forget the winding drive through redwoods and along the thin ribbon of Hwy. 1 over the Pacific. Is this any way to earn a living?

The answer so far is no, but the process is so enlivening and satisfying in other ways that I want to tweak it into economic feasibility. All my free time Thursday harvesting and getting ready – that includes making origami boxes for cherry tomatoes from sheets of newspaper – and then this morning the hour and a half drive to Mendocino, an hour to set up, two hours for the market, etc. I don’t actually know how much money I took in because I didn’t count the money already in my pocket – I switched it to an unused pocket before the market but soon found myself stuffing bills into that pocket too – but let’s say it was around $150. This doesn’t make sense even just counting the two days of prep and market and the gasoline to get there, yet that part is just the culmination of months or, in the case of the grapes, years, of gardening work. When I look at it like that it makes me laugh at my foolishness. It only works in some other than economic realm, so far, even though it’s all about buying and selling.
Last week’s carrot buyer is sniffing around fifteen minutes before market opening, swooning about the taste of those carrots. When I unveil today’s carrots (wrapped in a damp dish towel) he lunges for them and holds a ferny bunch to his chest. The woman next to him, with her eye on the 3 big Cherokee Chocolate tomatoes, says “You can’t get them yet.” He says “I can hold them.” Her fingers are twitching over the tomatoes, so I tell her she can go ahead and pick them up now.
The woman says she bought basil last week at the supermarket and it had no smell and not much taste. “This is the real thing,” she says, inhaling the bunch, and as she does another woman steps up with the same complaint. The first one hands the basil over – “Smell it.”
The man confides that today is his birthday. As he and his wife look at the grapes, they have the idea to ring his birthday cake (a 5-inch circle of something gluten-free, he tells me) with grape clusters. They get a pretty selection of Flame, Perlette, and the tiny deep blue Glenora.
The origami boxes sell a lot of cherry tomatoes – easily twice the amount we sold last week by the pound (and at a slightly higher price, as a box holds about 14 oz. but sells for the same price as a pound). I made 20 boxes, at 4 minutes each, so go figure that into the economics of the situation.
Here’s something to remember, though – many sellers are making a go of it. I’m not the guy next to us last week who said he’d just sold 150 pounds of lemon cucumbers at the Ft. Bragg farmers market. No refrigerator truck. No canopy. I’m out here with two card tables in front of my Toyota station wagon, the one with 275,000 miles on it. I’m experimenting with this, and liking it. Would I like it so much if I were growing enough produce to stock a bigger stand every week, enough produce to actually call it an income? I might like the opportunity to find out.